Changing Strings

Fresh strings can breathe new life into an instrument. That’s why many pros change their strings before every performance. While there are no set rules on how often to change strings, most don’t do it nearly often enough.

Oils and acids from the hands and humidity in the environment cause corrosion and breakdown of the metals in guitar strings, which sound bad and don’t hold pitch well when they’re worn and dirty. Don’t wait until strings wear out and break from old age before changing them.

Those who play several times a week should change strings at least once a month for optimal string tone and performance.

To maintain even neck tension, strings should be removed and replaced one at a time rather than all at once. Each new string should be slowly tightened up to its correct pitch before the next one is removed (tightening a string too fast can break it).

Re-Stringing a Fixed-Tailpiece Guitar

The procedures for re-stringing acoustic guitars, electric guitars and basses are similar in how strings are wound onto the tuning machines. They often differ, however, in how strings attach to the bridges of various guitars.

The bridges of Gretsch flat-top acoustic guitars have holes and pins that hold the strings in place. Many Gretsch electric guitars use “floating” bridges paired with Bigsby® vibrato tailpieces. Other Gretsch instruments have fixed bridge/tailpiece assemblies.

To string a flat-top acoustic, remove the bridge pin and the old string. Insert the ball end of the new string into the hole in the bridge, and re-insert the bridge pin, with the groove in the pin positioned over the string. Don’t hammer the pin into the hole; a firm push with the thumb is sufficient.

On an electric guitar with a surface-mounted bridge and fixed tailpiece, feed the strings through the holes in the bridge or slots in the tailpiece.

Thread the other end of the string through the machine head hole or slot. Run it halfway around the post, then under the main length of the string. Next, pull the string end back over the main length (see illustrations 1, 2 and 3.)

Make sure that each string is properly seated, stretched and snug on the tuning machine post. This will prevent slippage. Never cut a string to length before installing it, as premature cutting can cause it to unwrap and become useless. Crimp the string first; then clip it near the machine head post.

IMPORTANT NOTE FOR RE-STRINGING A GUITAR WITH A FLOATING BRIDGE: Change the strings one at a time only. Don’t remove all the strings at once, as the bridge is held in the correct position only by the downward pressure of the strings.

Illustration 1.
String is passed through hole near top of string post.

Illustration 2.
String is then wound halfway around post.

Illustration 3.
Prevent string slippage by running the short end halfway around the post, then underneath and back over the main length of string before tightening.

The Bigsby® Vibrato Tailpiece

The Bigsby® vibrato tailpiece is a time-honored classic that Gretsch guitars have featured for well more than half a century. It has been the choice of guitarists and world-class guitar builders everywhere as standard equipment on premium instruments since the 1950s.

Following Paul Bigsby’s original formulas from the early ’50s, Bigsby® vibrato units are still hand cast, hand polished and hand assembled. Their elegant aluminum frames, stainless steel handles and nickel-plated string bars assure years of reliable musical service.

Re-Stringing a Bigsby® Vibrato

  1. Crimp the string at a 45-degree angle next to the ball end of the string (A)..
  2. Feed the string underneath, around and over the axle (B).
  3. Place the ball end of the string onto the axle pin (C), keeping tension on the string to hold the ball in place.
  4. Push a foam wedge (D) into the space under the axle to keep the string in place on the pin while winding.
  5. Wind the string onto the tuning machine; tune to pitch and remove the foam wedge.
  6. Repeat for each string.

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